‘It’s not your fault’ – Behind the animation

Sometimes the magic formula to create a perfect — and in this case, possibly life-saving — message is a 15-year partnership, a dash of unfamiliarity and a stroke of inspiration.

Alex Raffi, creative director at Imagine Communications, is well aware of the long relationship his team has enjoyed with the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT), even if he’s not had a personal hand in much of the marketing services produced over the years.

So, when he watched a video featuring Chris Carlough and Ben Cort discuss the Member Assistance Program (MAP), Raffi was removed enough from the material to be struck by the two men talking so candidly about mental health struggles.

“I was really moved by the love and sincerity these guys were showing,” Raffi recalled.

This feeling moved Raffi to give back, in appreciation for all SMOHIT does and its longstanding relationship with Imagine. He decided to put his skill set to work, pro bono, creating an animated video that could communicate this vital message in an engaging, succinct format. Raffi, who has long championed empathy-based work, said it was not hard to put himself in the place of someone who had lost hope. He imagined being without his loved ones and other supports, and that made him realize how close everyone is to being in a very dark place.

“Being lost in the ocean was the image that came to me immediately,” Raffi said, recalling a time years ago when a Florida current carried him far out to sea — too far to call for help, as the chilling reality set in that he might be unable to swim back. That imagery became the main setting for the animation.

Raffi made it back to shore, but many who face substance abuse disorder or suicidal ideations do not.

He showed a rough draft of the animation to SMOHIT Administrator Aldo Zambetti and Field Representative Jeff Bradley, who were honored that Raffi had been moved to create it.

“He told me the animation would be cleaner and more detailed,” Zambetti said. “I told him, ‘Alex, don’t take it farther than the rough draft, don’t lose that effect.’ The hand-sketched animation was so powerful, so natural as it was, not-completely filled in.”

The simple blue stick figure used as a placeholder became the final design, a very inclusive image of any person in crisis, imperfect and shaky.

“There was real honesty in it,” Zambetti said. “This is who we are, as an organization. We’re not all perfect.”

Over the next six weeks, Raffi finished up the project during evenings and weekends. Zambetti inspired other ideas, like the scene where figures link arms to demonstrate the union’s brotherhood and sisterhood. His and Bradley’s only requested correction, Director of Account Services Nadia Zerka recalled, was to fix the look of a hammer.

During the run-up to the 2023 Safety Champions Conference, with Zambetti too busy to provide a voiceover himself, Raffi sat down and gave voice to the script he had written to narrate the three-minute video.

The final effect was powerful. Zambetti said Raffi’s voice was perfect and he couldn’t have done it better. “I couldn’t stop watching it, and I couldn’t get through it without a tear in my eye,” he said.

When all the elements came together, it reminded Zerka of one of her mother’s favorite sayings — “When you’re cooking for someone you love, the food always comes out good,” she said.

In early July, the animated spot premiered at the Funds’ trustees meeting, then was shown at the SMOHIT Safety Champions Conference in Falls Church, Virginia, where around 70 conference attendees viewed it for the first time. Zambetti then brought it to SMART’s general executive council meeting, where General President Michael Coleman and the vice presidents viewed it, leading up to it being screened for more than 500 attendees at the SMART Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., at the end of July.

Since then, trainers and coordinators have loaded it on their websites, used it in classrooms and played it during meetings and presentations. It’s become part of recruitment efforts to showcase how the union values members’ mental as well as physical well-being.

“It really has become part of us,” Zambetti said. “The most important part is that it’s not just reactive, it’s proactive. It starts a conversation — and many people just don’t know how to do that.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. For help with mental health struggles or to find local resources, the SMOHIT Helpline is available to SMART members and their families 24/7 at 877-884-6227.

Update: In October 2023, Imagine Communications was awarded the Marcom Gold Award for “It’s Not Your Fault,” which recognizes outstanding achievement by marketing and communications professionals, administered and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.